TRAVEL: THE GOLDEN ISLAND

11 Feb 2018

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The remains of chopped down mangroves stand like ghosts | Zahid Younus
The remains of chopped down mangroves stand like ghosts | Zahid Younus

In our quest to find the next unexplored place on our checklist — of places deserted enough for peaceful camping, and with a water body for swimming — we came across the island of Kurkuti near Damb. Damb is a fishing village of Miani Hor in Balochistan, two hours and 95 km away from Karachi, and approachable via the Northern Bypass (M-10) and RCD Highway (N-25).

Miani Hor and its surrounding islands and creeks are home to mangrove forests, dolphins and local and migratory birds. An overnight camping stay at Kurkuti included taking a two-hour boat ride in the channel between two mangrove islands, watching the resident dolphins surfacing briefly from time to time, bird-watching, fishing, swimming, exploring the island, star-gazing, sitting around a bonfire and eating freshly caught seafood. What more could one want? We packed up and set off.

Damb is small and quaint. Bleached mud houses share space with scores of boats being made or cleaned or being painted in narrow alleys.

The fishing village of Damb in Balochistan, with its sand dunes and marine life, is a pristine sancuary for adventurers and picnickers alike

Due to the movement of the sea’s waves and currents, Damb faces massive coastal erosion. When the channel and shoreline is eroded by waves, the sea flows inward into the land, flooding many homes and shops. Our host, Sikander, remembers the time when the villagers had to move their homes inland from where the coast lies currently. Now the villagers have built dykes to combat this water encroachment.

The locals are proactive about protecting the source of their livelihood — fishing. The waters are rich in a large variety of fish and shellfish because the villagers have worked hard to conserve the fish population. They are skilful and have the know-how about all fishing related activities.

The sun, the sand and the sea | Zahid Younus
The sun, the sand and the sea | Zahid Younus

Damb is famous for its tall sand dunes and mangrove forests, and for the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins found in its creeks. The locals shelter these dolphins, estimated at around 200 in the lagoon and many more in the open sea. Damb is also home to a large number of local and migratory birds from Europe and Central Asia, including cranes, herons and ducks. Animals like jackals and foxes are found inland.

The island’s striking landscape looked like a setting of an eerie Spanish art movie. The only living soul here was a local from the fishing village, cooking a meal inside a decrepit shanty.

It was disheartening to see that the boat harbour was extremely filthy. The stench of fish catch, in all stages of decay, rose to high heaven. There was garbage strewn everywhere — juice packs, soiled pampers, fruit and vegetable peel, household and fishing refuse, and even the decayed carcass of a dog. There is an obvious and dire need of implementing a hygiene-awareness programme and sanitation services.

There was no pier, so we had to brave it and wade into the polluted creek water to board our boat. The water surface was covered with oil spills from the motors of the boats, and debris spillover from the land. Wading through this mess was self-inflicted torture. We got on to the boat, squealing in disgust, and heaved a sigh of relief after rinsing our feet onboard.

Damb faces incessant coastal erosion | Zahid Younus
Damb faces incessant coastal erosion | Zahid Younus

Just a few kilometres away from the shore, the creek water becomes surprisingly — and exceptionally — clean. No solid or liquid waste mars its beauty. As the boat moved away and the polluted shoreline started receding, the view of golden beaches, mud huts and brightly painted boats bobbing in the glistening sea, with the sun shining down upon it all, was a pretty sight indeed. Soon, thick mangrove forests started appearing on the horizon. With the first sighting of dolphins breaching the surface, cries of excitement ran across the boat. Dark humps with fins cut through the water like scythes, gone in a flash almost before they could be captured on the camera. We kept our eyes peeled on the water’s surface to catch these flash-sightings. We rode the gently lapping waves in this way for two hours, with gulls flying above us, as the boat steered on its course between the islands.

Finally we reached Kurkuti and disembarked, thankfully, this time, into clean waters and shore. The island was pristine and deserted. We took down our luggage and supplies for the overnight stay, and went off for a quick dip in the creek before dark. The current was so strong that although we were swimming westwards, we kept drifting down eastwards.

As the sun started its descent, we headed down the beach to catch the remains of the day. The tall, virgin, gold sand dunes were so inviting that we climbed up and rolled down the slopes, reliving childhood memories. From the beach, we could see dolphins swimming in the creek alongside. Standing at the edge of the island we watched the sun sink into the sea. Crab footprints adorned the beach strip like a floral mosaic. The jagged remains of mangrove trees, cut down by villagers for firewood, stood as dark silhouettes against the orange sun. The island’s striking landscape looked like a setting of an eerie Spanish art movie. The only living soul here was a local from the fishing village, cooking a meal inside a decrepit shanty, who claimed the mangrove tree stubs had been struck by lightning.

We walked back to our base to set up our tents and to freshen up. At the kitchen camp set up for us by our host, the tea was already bubbling, and a dinner made from fresh seafood caught by the fishing boats awaited us. On the menu were prawn kofta, prawn biryani, and fried fish.

By nightfall, the stars had come out, calling for another walk along the beach, this time under a starry sky. The wet sand of the beach glistened with the reflection of the faint glow from the night sky, giving us just enough light to avoid walking into the mangrove stumps. Gradually, we dozed off one by one along the beach edge, shivering in the chilly sea breeze in our sleep but loathe to go inside our tents and miss out on this experience.

Boats in dock waiting to go out for the next catch | Ali Waseem
Boats in dock waiting to go out for the next catch | Ali Waseem

We woke up to catch the sunrise from atop a sand dune, from the opposite end of where it had set — a fact that was easy to observe from the centre of an island with a 180-degree view of the horizon.

Before the tides started receding, and before the sun would become too strong, we quickly wrapped up camp and set to leave, but not before we had picked up our own trash, and also that left behind by litterers before us. After all, we had to leave the island as we had found it, if not in a better state, for those who would come here after us.

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 11th, 2018